Harrisonville R-9 Superintendent Paul Mensching was all smiles as he entered the school board’s Jan. 19 meeting. His
smile was courtesy of the Harrisonville Board of Aldermen which voted unanimously to waive inspection and license fees for the district’s $15 million renovation project just prior to the start of the school board meeting.
The city’s action was based in part by an egregious comparison presented by Mensching which the aldermen bought, hook, line and sinker, without even giving city staff time to appraise the situation.
In a nutshell, Mensching said he had received “a bill” for just under $45,000 for fees which would be required for the construction project. He said such a cost “could pay for a full time teacher” and wondered if the city couldn’t work with
the school in lowering those fees. The comparison was ridiculous. Even if the $45,000 were excused, the money could not be used to hire a teacher, the building bonds are separate from the school’s general budget.
Even more ridiculous was the fact the actual fee on $15 million should have been closer to $90,000, but City Codes Director Chris Arthur had cut the bill in half, noting the mandated prevailing wage law actually made the construction project cost as much as twice than if bid labor could instead be used.
But the board went beyond what Arthur recommended and probably more than Mensching expected waiving the full fees, although they can “review the project” quarterly and if the fees are coming in “higher,” the school could be approached to help pay the cost. Only Alderman Judy Reece ques- tioned “higher than what?”
The city codes department works full time and last year handled building permits totaling $18 million.
It seems pretty obvious if the school projects are going to cost nearly that same amount, the codes department is likely going to have to hire another employee, pay extensive overtime or contract out inspections.
So that money that “could pay a full time teacher” will likely be spent by the city for a “full time inspector” with no compensation coming in.
We have also been promised a busy year of construction in the city. If that proves true, the costs to the city could soar even more. And it is worth noting chances are other builders won’t get all of their fees waived.
Residents in Harrisonville will actually be paying twice for this part of the program. Since voters approved the bonds for construction, the costs will be coming out of those bond payments. On a $15 million project, $45,000 equals .003 percent of the total cost, likely less than one month’s interest on the total loan.
Meanwhile, in the codes department’s budget, $45,000 is a considerable hit and shortfalls will be paid from the general fund. The general fund pays for things like street improvements, sidewalks and snow removal.
If it was really about good partnerships, the school district would never have asked for the waiver in the first place. Their officials know the cost was minor in the grand scheme, but took advantage anyway.
Why were the aldermen in such a hurry to make this magnanimous gesture? There was no time deadline, it was a decision that could have waited weeks, even months.
If for some reason the waiver was necessary, they could have always decided to give it later. Instead, they sold the farm up front and there is no real chance of recouping any money.
Arthur even noted he had just received the blueprints and hadn’t had a chance to review them so he could estimate what
inspections would be necessary. No one even mentioned giving staff time to research the entire program. Not a single staff member endorsed the idea of waiving all the fees, the board made the decision on its own.
Alderman Marcia Milner abstained from the vote because she works for the school district. She should have recused herself from the discussion as well. Alderman Mike Zaring likely also had a conflict as his wife is an administrator in the district. Alderman David Doerhoff’s wife is teacher in the district. They too, should have recused themselves from the discussion. It’s not clear whether any of the other board members might also have had conflicts in the discussion.
This type of decision making is reminiscent of previous boards where what was right and fair didn’t matter. What was more important was who you were and who your friends were. This action was the first vote by the newly minted eight-member board and it doesn’t reflect well on any of the members.
The final note has nothing to do with the schools or the city, but has to do with being smart. Please, until we know it’s safe, wear a mask.